Profile: Art teacher redraws poverty lines in poor village

Source: Xinhua| 2018-06-09 12:44:52|Editor: Liangyu
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TAIYUAN, June 9 (Xinhua) -- Du Liangshu, 33, wanted to do something to make her two daughters proud, and she did.

Two years ago, the art teacher in north China's Shanxi Province volunteered to become the first Party secretary of Zhaizeping Village, Qikou Town, responsible for poverty alleviation.

Zhaizeping is at the western foot of Lyuliang Mountain, and in one of the most impoverished regions in China.

Following her efforts, cash has flowed in and living standards have risen.

China had 30.46 million people categorized as poor in 2017. To eradicate absolute poverty by 2020, some 195,000 Party members have gone to poor villages to serve as first Party secretary.

Du used to teach drawing and calligraphy and sometimes served as an exhibition curator at a gallery in Xiaoyi City. The city is paired with Linxian County, which administers Zhaizeping, and when Party members were encouraged to join the poverty alleviation campaign, Du put up her hand.

"Life in gallery was dull, and I wanted to do something challenging," she says.

When she first arrived in the village in the winter of 2016, it was like going to a battlefield. The village was all new to her.

To get to know the villagers, she made traditional caligraphy couplets and took them from door to door as new year gifts. After Chinese New Year, she organized calligraphy classes.

"Door-to-door visits and the lessons were ways for me to get to know everyone," she says, adding she has tried to teach them different calligraphy styles to match their personalities.

Qikou was once a trading town and an home to many Shanxi merchants. Some nearby villages have developed their tourism potential.

"Now that we have tourists, we must do something to make money," says Du.

The first thing that occurred to her was handicrafts. She designed a tiger-head hat and encouraged villagers to make them as souvenirs. They also made donkeys, camels and pillows.

Next, she started shadow puppet shows and taught over 20 women how to perform. Each woman makes 1,500 yuan (230 U.S. dollars) a month at the shadow puppet theater.

"With the puppet show job and the handicraft work during my spare time, I almost feel rich," said Li Wujun, a theater employee.

Du says they write their own plays, telling the stories of the town. Du is sometimes called "egg Party chief," as she has distributed eggs to poor households using money she raised online.

"Everyone who donate more than 100 yuan is given some agricultural product as a gift, such as dates," says Du, who also organized clothing donations.

With the money she raised, Du rented some festival costume and took family photos of each poor family during Chinese New Year.

"It's been years since we had a family photo taken and the costume made us look much younger," said villager Liu Fenbao.

Over the past two years, the income of poor villagers has risen by around 40 percent to an estimated 3,500 yuan this year, above the national poverty line.

One day, Du's daughter Cancan said her classmates saw Du on TV. "What you do is so great. I give you a thumbs up," Cancan, six years old, said.

Cancan often cuts Du's image off her name cards and pastes them on the closet or bed whenever she misses her mother. The photos are now everywhere at home.

Her elder daughter, eight, is often the last one to leave school as her father, a music teacher, is too busy to pick her up on time.

To make it up to them, Du tries her best to make weekends free for her family.

She chose the poverty alleviation work partly because she wanted to set an example for her daughters.

"I'd like to show my girls that women don't have to stay at home for cooking and taking care of the family," she says. "We have the whole world to contribute to."